Andrew Lansley guarantees cancer networks

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Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has guaranteed the future of key teams of cancer experts after heavy criticism that his NHS reforms would put them at risk.

In a U-turn arising from the Government's "pause" on the widely criticised Health and Social Care Bill, he announced England's 28 NHS cancer networks would be funded beyond 2012.



Previously he has refused to guarantee their future, despite criticism from cancer campaigners and doctors, saying that it would be up to the proposed new GP consortia to decide whether to commission the networks' expertise.



The networks, consisting of up to 15 cancer specialists, provide GPs and hospitals with targeted advice and support on improving care.



The Liberal Democrat Care Services Minister, Paul Burstow, said the Government had "gone back to the drawing board" on the issue as part of the Government's wider review of its NHS reforms.



"We fully recognise the value of cancer networks to both doctors and to patients. That's why we took the initial step to fund and support cancer networks until 2013.



"But we've also listened to the concern that organisations, such as Macmillan Cancer, have expressed about the long term future of cancer networks.



"We've listened to those concerns and used the 'pause' in the Health and Social Care Bill to go back to the drawing board and guarantee that cancer networks will now be maintained beyond 2013."



Mr Lansley, who has been intense pressure over his highly controversial NHS reforms, signalled the backtrack in a speech last night to a campaign event by Anglia Cancer Network.



"I am pleased to confirm not only that we will fund and support Cancer Networks in 2012/13, but that the NHS Commissioning Board will thereafter continue to support strengthened cancer networks, as a means of bringing the clinical expertise and clinical commissioning responsibilities together, continuously to improve outcomes for cancer patients," he said.



Ciaran Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, welcomed the announcement.



"This change of mind is great news for cancer patients as it provides important reassurance that their care will not be put at risk by the health reforms," he said.



"We're very pleased the Government has listened to our concerns and recognised the importance of cancer networks in commissioning high quality cancer services.



"The Government is right to cut bureaucracy but it made no sense to risk losing the valuable specialist knowledge and personnel that cancer networks provide."

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